Counting Down to Summer League
Ready for NBA basketball again? Yep, thought so.
Hard to believe it’s been exactly two months since the last Warriors game, a thrilling but tough playoff loss in Game 7 to the no-longer-argued rival L.A. Clippers. While that day in many ways signified the end of a journey, it also kicked off the ever-entertaining NBA offseason for the Dubs, which seems to only get more crazy and exciting with each and every day that passes.
First came the NBA Draft, which, for the first time in a long time, turned out to be a pretty uneventful evening for the Warriors. After years of consistently finding themselves stuck in the lottery, the Dubs didn’t so much as even select a single player. This was in large part due to the fact the they didn’t possess any picks after trading them away to land Andre Iguodala last summer, and although you always want to be accumulating young, cheap talent, the presence of #9 in the starting lineup makes that a lot easier to digest.
Next came the dawn of free agency, and while the league-wide moratorium prevents teams from discussing any oral or written agreements with free agents until July 10, safe to say that there’s been plenty going on behind the scenes. With several superstars opting out of their contracts to enter free agency, fans and pundits alike watch and wait to see how the balance of power in the league shifts – or doesn’t. The Warriors don’t have as much open cap space with which to sign free agents as several other teams, but that doesn’t necessarily rule them out of the excitement. After all, how many people saw that Iguodala trade coming, almost exactly one year ago?
While the flashiness of free agency certainly will occupy the largest portion of discussion within the NBA offseason, we’re not far off from the part that really matters – you know, real actual basketball. That’s right my friends, the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League is almost upon us, and if you’ve been paying attention the last few years, when it comes to Sin City, the Warriors are kind of a big deal.
14-game winning streak? Granted, it’s spanned three years, but in many ways that makes it all the more impressive. With different players and coaches each time, there’s no continuity or chemistry; it’s a fresh page each year. And yet, in their last three summer trips to Vegas, the Dubs have done the one thing that has distinguished this era of Warriors basketball from those of recent memory: win. And after capturing the inaugural Summer League title a year ago, Steve Kerr and the Dubs are about to face the tough reality that the Miami Heat could impart a little wisdom on: winning a title is tough; defending one is an even taller task.
For Kerr, this will be his first ever experience as a Head Coach, and we’re all very interested to see what he brings to the table. We’ve heard snippets of the philosophy and system he intends to put in place during press conferences and interviews, but until you see it out there on the court in live action, those words lack substance. It’s a tremendous environment for Kerr to make his coaching debut, as although the Warriors have a Summer League title to defend, the focus is generally more on player (and coach) development, rather than wins and losses. That said, his competitive spirit is one of the key reasons why Kerr was able to carve out such an extended and successful NBA career as a player, so don’t think for one second that he’s lowering the teams’ impressive Summer League standards.
The other main benefit of having Kerr coach the Summer League team is that he will already be able to start coaching some of the players that will be on his roster next season. The Golden State Summer League roster was announced today, and it contains several familiar names. Current Warriors Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic will all be key contributors on this year’s squad, and it will be great to see them all on the court after missing varying lengths of last season with injuries. Joining them will be multiple members from last year’s Santa Cruz Warriors, such as Lance Goulbourne and YouTube sensation Kiwi Gardner. But Summer League isn’t just about developing the players you know; it’s also about finding diamonds in the rough. In past Summer Leagues, ex-Warriors like Reggie Williams, Anthony Morrow, and Ian Clark have all made a name for themselves on their way to earning NBA contracts, and the question this year isn’t if a similar performance will happen again, but rather, from whom?
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The Warriors hosted a free agent mini-camp last month with the intention of getting a head start on exactly that. Joining the aforementioned Golden State and Santa Cruz Warriors on this year’s Summer League team will be several accomplished free agents with professional experience such as Orlando Johnson, Rodney McGruder, and Christian Watford. They’ll be joined by multiple players with success at the collegiate level, like Travis Bader, Aaron Craft, and James Michael McAdoo. And lest we forget that the Dubs aren’t the only team participating in Vegas (although that would make defending the title a little bit easier.) Each and every team there will have a roster filled with similarly talented players, and if they don’t have an NBA contract, they’re eligible to be signed by any team. So while Warriors fans should of course root for the Dubs to win, they might also want to keep an eye out for any opponent that steals the limelight, because you just never know who’s going to break out.
Summer League practice starts on July 8th, and the Warriors’ first game falls on Friday, July 11th against Charlotte. So don’t worry Warriors fans, we’re almost there. Just a little bit longer till we see the Dubs back on the court, doing what they do best.
Time to get excited. It is Vegas after all.